Mr Salvinu Farrell has an interesting colourful past, an exciting and demanding present, and certainly a challenging future. “Actually, I am an accountant by profession, but I have always loved construction and mechanical stuff such as dismantling and spraying cars, woodwork, design, drawing etc. So my first choice when I came to choose my University course was architecture and civil engineering. However, I found out that at that time this course was seven years long. I did not want to spend so many years at University so I chose the accountancy course instead, which was five years!”
His first job was junior accountant with a private firm but in April 1989 he joined Corinthia as an accountant at the Jerma Palace Hotel where he spent three and a half years. He was then appointed Accounts Manager at Swan Laundry and in 1994 moved to Corinthia Palace Hotel as Financial Controller, and from there made his first steps in hotel operations and served also as Acting General manager.
Four years later he spent some time at Corinthia Head Office reviewing budgets and management accounts but he adds: “I could feel that my calling was operational, not financial.” Nonetheless he spent 1999 in Prague as Regional Finance Director and then was appointed for the first time as Hotel General Manager. Mr Farrell recalls: “The post couldn’t have been more challenging; it was the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul, The Gambia. Although the first impact was very daunting I did end up spending four happy years in West Africa and during this time we also took over and started managing the Hotel 2 Fevrier in Lome, Togo. So I spent time in between the two hotels as Area General Manager and doing business development work for LFICO. Thus I travelled all over West Africa and visited countries like Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Guinea Bissau and others.”
In February 2004 Mr Farrell was appointed General Manager of the Corinthia Tripoli Hotel, which had just opened. Sanctions on Libya had just been removed and the hotel became the hub of Tripoli with all VIPs and Governmental delegations staying at this hotel. Mr Farrell still feels the excitement. “We enjoyed unprecedented success for many years; it was very tough, but equally rewarding. The hotel was full every day as were its restaurants, we did VIP events inside and outside the hotel and flight catering for a Libyan Airline. It was practically a non-stop 24-hour operation. In July 2007 I was asked to open another architectural masterpiece – Corinthia Khartoum Hotel in Sudan. This proved to be extremely complicated, mostly due to the harsh climatic conditions, with summer temperatures regularly being in the high 40s which caused unprecedented challenges for the cooling system, but we ultimately opened the hotel in September 2008.”
He then returned to Malta and started working at Corinthia’s Head Office in a regional role, heading the Ramada branded Hotels and the Independent ones like the Panorama Hotel in Prague or the Aquincum Hotel in Budapest. “During this time we opened several hotels for Ramada in Sharm El Sheikh, Dubai and Sharjah and re-flagged others such as the Khamsa Hotel in Tunis. The Arab Spring in early 2011 changed the political environment and country dynamic of the whole North African region and in this light I was asked to go to Tripoli again in March 2012 as the hotel was passing through some challenging times. So I spent quite a few eventful years in Tripoli again concentrating on refurbishing the hotel and the daily operations whilst supporting the staff and ensuring that the hotel could meet and deliver a five-star experience to its clients notwithstanding the upheaval just outside the hotel’s boundary walls.”
At the end of 2014 he was asked to overlook the management of BCM, a construction services company which supplied concrete and bricks to contractors over all of Tripoli, so most days he started the day early at BCM and then concentrated on hotel operations in the afternoon. “BCM had suffered damages to its plant and equipment in the skirmishes of July 2014 but by the end of that year we were up and running again”
In September 2017 he re-located back to Malta to head the Catering Division. “Here we have gone through a period of organization and consolidation as the catering division consisted of many companies doing anything from events catering to canteen catering to retail catering and anything in between. Now we have condensed this to two companies, Corinthia Caterers, which is the B2C company catering for events, meetings, weddings and flights, and Catermax which is the B2B company responsible for contract catering such as canteen catering, hotel catering, hospital catering and retail.”
What an active past! Quite a handful!
Mr Salvinu Farrell is now Managing director of Corinthia Caterers. Insider Plus commented that Covid-19 must have caused him many headaches. He smiled as if to say, you can say that again! “Revenue for 2020 has dropped considerably. Our main revenue generators have all been affected.”
Mr Farrell quickly scanned through them:
Flight Catering – “Corinthia Caterers provides airline catering to Emirates Airlines and a host of private aircraft ground handlers. By mid-March Emirates Airlines had stopped flying to Malta completely. In the meantime private aircraft business remained consistent with year on year numbers confirming this trend.”
Events – “The Events business is based on three main segments being Corporate, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) and Weddings. Decisions taken by the Health Authorities in Malta and abroad withered this segment to an almost complete halt except for a few weddings during summer when the restrictions were somewhat eased.”
“On a positive note: most weddings were postponed rather than cancelled and quite a number have been pushed to 2021. We are hopeful that progress on vaccinations will lead to an easing of restrictions to allow us to hold the weddings that we have booked for this year.”
Contract catering (catermax) – “Catermax is the B2B side of our business. Here again restrictions imposed by the authorities had a major effect on the revenue streams, all the more so in the sectors we operate which are mainly Mater Dei Hospital where we operate the cafeteria where access has been strongly curtailed and the staff canteen, and the student canteen at the University of Malta where students are being lectured online and life on campus has been limited to a few hundred students.”
Corinthia Caterers have worked hard on mitigating losses, including for example moving the offices and warehouses to other premises within the organization to reduce rental fees, talking with venue partners for reduction in venue fees. “I must say reason and good sense prevailed in most cases,” remarked Mr Farrell.
“We had been working on a plan to reduce costs pre-Covid by streamlining management, consolidating some companies together and winding up dormant ones. Once this was done, we grouped all management at the Central Processing Unit in Luqa, thus saving on rental costs. We did the same with our operations and logistics team by moving these from the two leased warehouses in Burmarrad to a company-owned premises in Handaq, Qormi, again saving the rental costs. We have also met and discussed with our staff the fairest way to reduce payroll costs and this was achieved by going for a two/three day working week, a measure which has been instrumental in cutting costs along with the benefits of the Government Covid grant scheme. We are also very prudent with procurement, buying only necessary items to maintain our levels of business and being very careful in planning our menus and offerings in line with the items that we had in stock. In this way we have managed to minimize wastage to a negligible amount and safeguard cashflow at the same time.”
What was the morale of the staff during all this? “Staff have been very understanding of the situation. Obviously, everyone can feel and see the problems that the whole world is facing and we are no exception. Nonetheless we have been able to carry on our business because at the end of the day, staff have cooperated and understood the fact that we need to pull through together. One must also mention the staff at Mater Dei for example who have kept the cafeteria and staff canteen operating throughout all the lockdown and the darkest days of the pandemic, every single day. We have also strongly appealed to the staff to scrupulously follow guidelines of the Health Authority. Luckily, we have not had any cases of Covid amongst our staff.”
So can one say that a Corinthia family sense prevailed? “The sense of family has always been at the core of the company’s values. We look after our area of responsibility as if it were our own and we look after our employees in the same manner. Family means that one acts responsibly but fairly. We are all aware that this sense of family has prevailed over the past year, but it is not surprising. We have experienced setbacks throughout the years and we have always found a way to succeed. In the catering division we have taken the decision to maintain our staff complement by working on reduced hours, thus sharing the burden amongst all the employees. Of course we have lost people along the way as some moved to other jobs with full pay, which is understandable, but in the main we are pulling through together.”
And what are the post-COVID plans?“We have taken the opportunity of the downturn in business to stream line operations and catch up with maintenance jobs that had been pending simply because of operational issues. So we are now finalising the refurbishment of the CPU which started in 2018 with building a new pastry, re-fitting offices and staff facilities and cladding of the façade. Now we are finishing off the painting works. We anticipate that 2021 will be a very busy year for the Weddings segment because of the wedding postponements made during 2020. Hopefully, the Corporate segment will pick up as vaccinations progress and restrictions on the holding of events are eased even further. We are also in the final stages of negotiations for the operation of a very prestigious location for a coffee shop in Valletta and in April we will be taking over all the Food & Beverage operation at the Verdi Hotel (ex Milano Due) which will re-start operations after a complete refurbishment.”
How do you relax after a hectic day? “I love to tinker around cars. Right now I am restoring an MGB; it’s been four years, but there is no rush. I enjoy finding parts and working on it more than actually driving it. I am also very interested in interior design and architecture and so I buy quite a few magazines on the subject just to keep abreast of current trends.”
Favourite sport? “Football”. Favourite team? Mr Farrell’s face lit up, smiled and he said in a loud voice: “Juventus, of course! I’m a great fan of the team.”
What advice would you give to young people interested in taking up your profession?
“Enjoy what you are doing. You can only enjoy something once you immerse yourself in it. A wise person once told me that if you wake up in the morning and don’t look forward to go to work, then it’s time to change your job. I think that the best I can do is pass on this message.”
Looking back, what would you say? “Working with Corinthia has been an exhilarating ride; it has become part of me.”